I phoned the police the other day. It wasn't just that I was lonely and thought it might be nice to chat. Rather, I had seen some things that I found concerning and I thought they should know. That call went pretty well and I believe that the situation was going to be addressed.
I know of other experiences when phoning the police has been more troubling and seemed somewhat futile. It's not that I question the police. I have a lot of respect for them and know they deal with many very troubling situations. I admire and appreciate them. It is their dispatch procedures that confuse me somewhat and make me question whether it's worthwhile to report things we see. Calls like the following one have soured me:
Dispatcher: What is your emergency?
Husband: There's a couple having a potentially violent fight in a bus shelter at 1st St. and 2nd St. (fictional address, only partially fictionalized telephone call)
Husband: Well, that seems like a bad thing.
Dispatcher: I guess. At what corner of the intersection is the shelter?
Dispatcher: What's the stop number for the bus at that shelter? Is there a bench housed within it?
Husband: I really don't know. There's one bus shelter at that intersection.
Dispatcher: Huh. Could you please describe the people in the bus shelter?
Husband: The man was probably in his early twenties, had somewhat long dark hair, and was wearing a black jacket.
Dispatcher: Could you please describe his hairstyle better? What do you mean by "somewhat long"? Had he had a haircut recently? Was there any facial hair? Did he have stubble?
Husband: I don't know about facial hair. Maybe some stubble. I guess his hair was shoulder length, a bit sloppy. Is that better?
Dispatcher: Marginally. And the woman?
Husband: Her hair was light brown and short. She was wearing a long blue coat.
Dispatcher: Was her hairstyle a pixie or perhaps a bob? Did it look like the light brown was her natural colour? Did she have highlights? Was the coat baby blue, navy, cerulean, perhaps indigo?
Husband: I can't answer any of those questions. I have absolutely no idea. There were only 2 people in the bus shelter, they were fighting and one was wearing some kind of blue coat.
Dispatcher: Sir, by this time, there could be a whole crowd of people in the bus shelter. We most certainly do not want to approach someone wearing a cerulean coat unnecessarily.
Husband: Wouldn't it have been better to send a car to the bus shelter at the start of the call?
Dispatcher: You're attitude has become rather combative. Now, were either of these people wearing or holding a hat, umbrella, portfolio or what appeared to be a musical instrument?
Husband: I don't think so.
Dispatcher: You don't sound certain.
Husband: OK, no. If I'd noticed those things I would have mentioned them earlier.
Dispatcher: I see. Sir, where are you located at this time?
Husband: I'm walking into the auto show.
Dispatcher: Yes. We thought so. We've been tracking you and will have officers waiting to attend.
Husband: But what did I do? I was trying to help...
Dispatcher: You've provided information to us which is helpful in no way. As well, your demeanor is problematic. Next time, please have all hairstyle and coat colour information handy before you make the call. The attending officers will go over this with you en route to arrest processing.
Husband: I guess I'm not going to the auto show.
Dispatcher: All of this could have been avoided if you hadn't called.
Husband: I'll know next time.
While I've exaggerated, one call my husband made was disappointingly similar to this one. I don't know why all the detail was needed. He'd call the police again in a similar situation but he might study more first and take better notes. He did get to go to the auto show.
I don't know what happened to those people in the bus shelter. Maybe that call made a difference. I am hopeful that sometimes we can.